Pfizer Inc., the world’s largest drug maker, has agreed in principle to an $894 million settlement for heart attacks, strokes, and other damages caused by its painkillers Bextra and Celebrex, the latter of which is still on the market.
According to Pfizer, the settlement will put an end to roughly 92 percent of the 7,000 personal injury lawsuits brought in recent months by people whose health has been seriously compromised by the painkillers, as well as family members of those who died as a result of taking them.
The proposed deal also would resolve suits filed by insurers and patients looking for reimbursement for the money they spent on Bextra and Celebrex, as well as claims by state attorneys general over Pfizer’s improper promotion of Bextra.
Of the total settlement, $745 million will be paid to cover personal injury lawsuits, $89 million will go to class action consumer fraud cases, and $60 million will cover attorneys general claims in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Cases challenging the nature of Pfizer’s drug marketing in Louisiana and Mississippi are currently pending.
Celebrex and Bextra are both Cox-2 inhibitors, and thus fall into the same class of anti-inflammatory drugs as Vioxx, the Merck painkiller that caused thousands of heart attacks and strokes and was withdrawn from the market in 2005. The Merck settlement was substantially larger than Pfizer’s, topping out at $4.85 billion.
While Bextra’s risks to cardiovascular and skin health were enough to remove it from the market in 2005, the Food and Drug Administration has decided to leave Celebrex on the market, ostensibly because the benefits of taking the drug outweigh the risks for some patients. (Pfizer ads for Celebrex say the same thing.) Last November, a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed several cases of Celebrex patients who were taking 200 mg of the drug, on the grounds that there was insufficient scientific proof that this dose could cause heart attacks or strokes.
Mike Ferrara, who is the co-liaison counsel for the 1,900 New Jersey cases pending in Atlantic City before Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee, said he strongly believes the settlement is fair. “It was nice to see Pfizer accept personal responsibility for the harms that were caused by Bextra and Celebrex,” he said.
Ferrara also urged consumers to use extreme caution when considering Celebrex, noting that it carries the strongest black box warning allowed by the FDA. “All Celebrex users should check with their doctors to see if there are safer alternatives to this drug that causes heart attacks and strokes,” he said.